Moving to California

Coming to California from out of state

We get a number of inquiries from MFTs at various stages of the licensure process who are considering coming to California from out of state. We have put together this information as an introductory guide to making the move here as smooth as possible.

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Coming to California as a student

Of all the times to move to California as an MFT, it is probably easiest to do so as a student. If you complete your degree here, that degree is quite likely to meet California’s specific MFT curriculum requirements. Our licensing board, the Board of Behavioral Sciences, maintains this list of programs with degrees that can be accepted toward MFT licensure.

Note, however, that while we have a lot of license-eligible MFT programs in the state, very few of these are COAMFTE-accredited. If you graduate from a non-COAMFTE program, you can still become a licensed MFT, but you may encounter difficulty applying for federally-funded jobs or loan reimbursement programs. For example, both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Health Service Corps require MFTs to have COAMFTE-accredited degrees to be eligible to work as an MFT in their systems. (We oppose these rules and AAMFT is actively lobbying against them, as they exclude many well-qualified MFTs.) A COAMFTE-accredited degree may also make it easier to move to other states during your career, as many states use COAMFTE accreditation as their educational standard for licensure.

Coming to California as an intern

If you have completed your graduate degree but are not yet licensed, in the eyes of the state of California you are an MFT Intern. You must register with the BBS to begin counting hours toward licensure, at which point your title becomes Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Intern. If you are presently registered in your home state (or have what some states would call a limited license), be sure to have your current state licensing board complete California’s form for Verification of Licensure/Registration/Certification in Another State.

If you completed your degree in another state, it is quite likely that the degree did not include content that is required in California. You will almost certainly be required to take coursework in California law and ethics, to ensure that you are aware of state laws around child, elder, and dependent adult abuse reporting, as well as other requirements specific to the state. You also may be asked to complete other courses. Many graduate programs will allow you to enroll in classes as a “non-matriculating student” so that you can simply complete the additional coursework required by the BBS to resolve these deficiencies, and do not need to obtain a whole new degree.

Once registered, you must have a qualified supervisor to gain hours of experience toward licensure. It is legal to work in a private practice setting as an intern, although there are a number of legal restrictions on MFT Interns working in their supervisors’ private practices. Make sure you are familiar with the documentation requirements for your supervised experience, and track your experience carefully using the forms available on the BBS web site. Our California MFT experience requirements are quite complex, so tracking your hours well is essential.

Coming to California as a licensee

If you are considering coming to California as a licensee, be sure to have your current state licensing board complete California’s form for Verification of Licensure in Another State. That will let the BBS know whether your license is in good standing and what level of experience you completed to achieve it. This, of course, is just one piece of the larger MFT Examination Eligibility Application packet you will be submitting to the BBS, including degree transcripts and additional information.

Many licensees are disappointed to learn that even after many years of practicing as a licensed professional in another state, the BBS requires them to register as an intern in California and complete additional supervised experience, in addition to possible educational remediation, in order to obtain licensure here. Indeed, California is a notoriously difficult state to move into as a licensee, which universities have identified as a major problem when trying to recruit qualified faculty to come here from other states.

Thankfully, we are making some progress on this. As of 2016, many degree deficiencies can be made up through continuing education rather than needing to be resolved by enrolling in more expensive and time-consuming coursework at degree programs. In addition, time spent licensed in another state can be credited toward California’s experience requirements (up to 1,200 hours out of the required 3,000 can be fulfilled in this way). This does not completely resolve the difficulty in coming here from out of state, but it is a significant positive change.

Frequently asked questions

Below are the most common inquiries we receive from those considering moving here from outside of California:

Does California recognize the National MFT Exam? No. California has its own state-based exams. At present, we use the Standard Written Exam and Written Clinical Vignette Exam, each of which is completed after the completion of the 3,000 required hours of supervised experience. As of January 1, 2016, our exam structure will change; interns will be required to take the California Law and Ethics exam in the first year of intern registration, and there will be a single Clinical Exam at the end of the 3,000 experience hours.

Does California have reciprocity agreements with any specific states? No. While some other states recognize California licensure toward their requirements, California does not grant automatic license eligibility to anyone based on out-of-state licensure.

Can I take California’s exams in another state? Yes. The BBS contracts with an outside company to administer the MFT licensing exams, and this company maintains facilities in other states as well. For a current list of cities outside of California where you can take the California MFT exams, check the BBS page on Examination News. Note that you must apply to the BBS and be declared eligible for the California exams before you can register to take them at any location.

Can AAMFT-CA advocate for me with the BBS? Unfortunately, the BBS has very little discretion when applying licensure standards, so we are unable to provide meaningful assistance with the process. Because our licensure standards are written in state law and are highly specific, the role of the board is simply to apply those standards. The BBS does not have the legal authority to independently conclude that any person deserves an exception to normal requirements. The best advice we can give is to submit clear and specific documentation demonstrating that you meet any requirement that is in dispute. If the information the BBS has from you on any requirement is incomplete or unclear, their default position will be that you have not met that requirement. While the application process can be time-consuming and frustrating, always be patient and professional when dealing with BBS staff, recognizing the limitations the law places on their role.

What is AAMFT-CA doing to make it easier for MFTs from other states to come here? We are keenly aware of the unique context in California and the problems this creates for out-of-state applicants. The legislation mentioned above, which was signed into law in 2014 and takes effect in 2016, was a major victory and the product of strong collaboration with the BBS. We also are continuing to fight for recognition and ultimately adoption of the National MFT Exam, so that those coming from out of state would only need to take the California Law & Ethics Exam if they have passed the national exam relatively recently.

Where can I learn more about California’s requirements? We strongly encourage you to get to know the BBS web site, which contains a wealth of information on the licensure process and requirements. You may also want to visit Ben Caldwell’s Psychotherapy Notes blog, which contains a number of articles related to MFT licensure in California.